Tag Archives: Andrew j. McKiernan

Paying for Our Passion – Andrew J McKiernan

In this series of guest posts, I have asked a number of writers and editors to share the price they pay for pursuing their creative passion or what they sacrifice–whether that is money, time or lost opportunities. It might be how they pay the bills that writing doesn’t, or how they juggle working for a living or raising a family with the time it takes to write or edit. The people who have contributed have shared their personal stories in the hope it might help those new to the scene manage their expectations, or help others dealing with similar things realise they aren’t alone. You can read about the inspiration for this series here, and if you want to be part of it please let me know. Our next guest is the dapper double threat, Andrew J McKiernan.

I’ve worked many different full-time jobs over the past 25 years, and I’ve hated every single one of them. I’ve been a bank clerk and a bank teller, a warehouse storeman, a paper salesman, a purchasing and logistics officer, a production manager, publications officer, network manager, web-developer, graphic designer… and none of them have worked out for me. I just don’t play well with people in an office environment. It’s the repetitiveness and day to day drudgery. It’s the need to be always wearing some kind of homogeneous uniform: be it King Gees and a workshirt and steel-capped boots, or a business suit with the old corporate noose around your neck. It’s the politics and the gossip and everyone’s little grabs for power and nobody really caring about the jobs they’ve actually been hired to do. Arghh! I couldn’t stand it. Some jobs, some days, it made me physically ill…

But I did it. I didn’t see there was much choice. Not for me, not for me family.

I didn’t really see myself as a writer back then. I wrote, but just because it was something I did. I never once considered sending anything off anywhere for publication. Wouldn’t have known where to send them if I did. Mostly, I was just trying to hold my shit together and stay in a job long enough to keep paying for food and rent. My record was probably about 2 years in a single job.

My wife and I have two boys, born two years apart. My wife stayed home and looked after them while I worked. She did an amazing job, looking after a newborn while our first son was rampaging his way through his terrible twos. I couldn’t have done it. I don’t know how mums get through that stage of bringing up children at all. It is a harrowing experience. But, by the time the boys were old enough to be starting school, I could tell my wife was getting very bored. She’s an academic with a passion for getting deep into projects, for working with people to solve problems, but here she was cooking and cleaning and washing clothes all day, alone, just waiting for her family to come home.

So, she was starting to hate her job. I always hated mine. When she suggested we swap roles, it was a fairly simple decision for me to make.

She’s more qualified than me. She gets on better with people than I do. She enjoys working in teams. She has drive and enthusiasm and a passion for work that I could never have.

Within a few weeks, my wife had found herself a job. It paid more than any job I’d had before.

11040102_10152781816833479_1041144317_nThat was just on eight years ago now. Since then, my wife has continued gaining qualifications and risen to the top of her field in this country. She’s a Key Speaker at National and International conferences. She loves her work and she earns enough to have bought us a beautiful house in a bushland setting, away from the bustle of city life. It was her suggestion that I spend the time when I’m not being a house-dad to maybe write something with a view to submitting it for publication. She bought me a kitten–my beautiful Cobweb–a writer’s cat, to keep my company while I write.

Not every day is easy for my wife. She works in a very high-stress position, dealing with the safety of people’s lives in war-torn and natural disaster areas. So, even though it seemed a win-win solution for us to swap roles, I still can’t see it as an even trade. She sacrifices a lot more, a hell of a lot more, in terms of time, energy and sheer emotional drain than I ever could endure. She says that fine because she gets to come home every afternoon to a house in the bush, and her dinner is cooked for her a cold glass of wine is waiting.

But I get to sit at home all day and make shit up! And, as long as the washing is done and dinner is taken care of, I pretty much get to do whatever I want.

I’ve tried real hard to make the best of those eight years. I’ve written and published sixteen short stories and/or novelettes. Been nominated for numerous awards. Had my short stories collected and published in a single volume, and picked up a contract with a publisher for a crime novel. And yet…it can’t possibly be enough. Not in comparison to what my wife accomplishes on a daily basis. And she’s doing it not only because it fits her better than the lonely madness of staying home, but because she truly wants me to be able to write.

Sometimes, that’s the hardest thing for me to wrap my head around. Jobs I’ve worked have made me physically ill, I hate them, and yet here is someone who is willing to endure that, day after day, just so that I can stay home and do something that I love. She says she knows one day I’ll be a famous writer and I’ll be able to pay it all back…she’s deluded. But I can’t possibly express how much I love her for that delusion. It means a lot to know someone has that much faith in you. That they’ll work so hard for you, to help make your dream possible.

So yeah, I pay for my passion. Every word I type is to pay back my wife for the faith she has in me. Without her, none of it would be possible.

amck_authorphotoAndrew J McKiernan is an author and illustrator living and working on the Central Coast of New South Wales. First published in 2007, his stories have since been short-listed for multiple Aurealis, Ditmar and Australian Shadows awards and reprinted in a number of Year’s Best anthologies. He was Art Director for Aurealis magazine for 8 years and his illustrations have graced the covers and internals of a number of books and magazines. Last Year, When We Were Young, a collection of his short stories was released in 2014 by Satalyte Publishing. You can find out more at http://www.andrewmckiernan.com

Wednesday Writers: Andrew J. McKiernan

I have always wished that I could draw but, as anyone who has played DrawSomething with me can attest, it is not an area in which I am particularly blessed. I have to admit to a certain jealousy of those who are gifted in this arena, and when someone like Andrew McKiernan comes along who is not only is a very talented artist but a damn fine writer, it makes me sick, to be honest! Here, Andrew talks about how his experience as an illustrator has impacted his writing, and gives us some valuable advice about drawing with words.

Painting with Words

I am a writer and an illustrator.

It always seems a bit strange for me to say or type that. Like I should be standing in front of some support group, admitting to something for which I feel unworthy. Ever since I could pick up a crayon, I’ve been drawing. Ever since I could form a letter or a word, I’ve been writing.

And yet, I’ve never felt myself to be especially good at either, and I feel very lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to have some small success at achieving publication in both.

When I was at high school, my art teacher told me I’d never be an artist. I’m fine with that; he was right, my interest has always been in ‘illustration’ rather than ‘art’. Illustration was something that he saw as a lesser discipline, not worthy of his time or effort. To him, it wasn’t really creating anything original. It was just taking the words someone else had produced and giving them visual form. There is a lot about that point of view that I could argue with, but I don’t think that’s what I want to talk about today. Nevertheless, I still feel a modicum of ‘stuff you’ rise up within me whenever I see one of my illustrations in print.

The truth is, illustration is very hard for me. Illustration is a tough gig. There are a so many constraints that you have to work with, not the least being: trying to avoid stepping all over the author’s words. You have to produce something that harmonises with the story. You have to be conscious to not give too much away too early – often, as illustrator, you’ve read ALL of the author’s words, but you have little idea where the illustration might be placed in relation to them. Will I give the story away for the reader if my illustration appears on the cover or on the first page of the story? Often an editor or publisher will want you to illustrate a particular scene or character. Have I captured that scene the way the author saw it when they wrote it? Have I missed a particular detail? Have I added something that wasn’t intended? And then you have to fit all of that into what might be a single panel, constrained to the size of the work being published. Possibly black and white. Possibly colour. And if the editor, or publisher, or author really don’t like what you’ve produced you have to re-work the image or maybe go back and start all over again from scratch.

Sometimes I think being an ‘artist’ might have been easier. To be allowed the creative freedom to produce what I want, in whatever medium I want. That’s a fantasy, I know, because I have friends who are artists. When I see what they go through to turn the creative vision in their minds into something tangible (be it a drawing, a painting or a
sculpture) I’m glad I didn’t try and go down that path. I just don’t have the constitution to put my mind and emotions through all that. At least not when I comes to producing something visual.

I think that’s why I’ve moved somewhat, over the past two years, to concentrate more on writing.

With words I can paint in colours visible to more than just the eye. I can paint with sound, and with smell, and with emotion. I can use words to paint tastes and textures. I’m not confined to a static image, but can construct a scene where the reader feels like they’re standing right there inside it. Only the very best of visual art can accomplish that.

But with words strung into sentences and paragraphs and ultimately stories I feel I can get so much closer to passing on to others the things I see in my mind.

It’s not always a matter of piling on the description either. In fact, that’s rarely the case. When I’m writing, I’m not trying to build up the written equivalent of a photo-realistic image. Instead, I’ve found it always better to use broad brush strokes. It’s more like Impressionism.

As an author you have to trust your readers, and you have to credit them with some degree of imagination, especially if they’ve chosen to read speculative fiction. Too much description can hamper the reader’s ability to use that imagination to the story’s best advantage. And that’s the opposite of what you want.

So, even though I find myself moving away from illustration, I think it has taught me a few lessons about what can make a story come alive.

Firstly, use your words to paint with all the senses; sound, smell, touch and taste as well as the visual.

Next, use broad brush strokes; don’t get bogged down in excessive description.

And finally, and possibly most importantly, trust your reader; respect that they have the intelligence and the imagination to put your words together into characters, scenes and stories that come to life for them.

Remember, you’re not using words to paint a picture on a page. You’re using words to paint a picture in someone else’s mind! Once you understand that, you’ve discovered the greatest tool in the writer’s toolbox… the infinite canvas that is your reader’s imagination.

Andrew J. McKiernan is a writer and illustrator living and working on the Central Coast of NSW. First published in 2007, his stories have since been nominated for multiple Aurealis, Australian Shadows and Ditmar Awards and been reprinted in a number of Year’s Best anthologies.

His illustrations have appeared in, and on the covers of, various books and magazines and he was Art Director of Aurealis Magazine for eight years. He is currently a founding and contributing editor for Thirteen O’Clock: Australian Dark Fiction News & Reviews (www.thirteenoclock.com.au). His latest short story, ‘The Final Degustation of Doctor Ernest Blenheim’ will appear at the end of May in Midnight Echo #7.